Theater and music lovers were overjoyed last week when Gov. Charlie Baker announced that lower-risk communities may move to “step two” of phase three reopening guidelines, as of Monday, Oct. 5. Step two allows for indoor performances, and outdoor performances are given increased capacity.
Interviews with managers of performing arts venues and organizations on the Outer Cape, however, suggest that little is likely to change in the near future.
In lower-risk communities, which currently include Cape Cod, indoor performance venues may now open with 50-percent capacity and a maximum of 250 people. Outdoor performance venues may increase to 50-percent capacity, also with a maximum of 250 people; previously, the limit outdoors was 25 percent, with a maximum of 50 people.
Fifty-percent capacity is based on an occupancy permit, or, if one doesn’t exist, 10 people per 1,000 square feet of space.
Indoor gatherings (not performances) remain capped at 25 people, while private outdoor gatherings remain capped at 50 people. Outdoor gatherings “at event venues and in public settings” may have up to 100 people. Back in August, Gov. Baker had decreased that number from 100 to 50.
The difference between a “public outdoor gathering” and a show at an outdoor performance venue — which have wildly different limits — appears simply to be whether the event is held “for the primary purpose of watching a performance,” according to Reopening Massachusetts. It’s not clear why there should be a difference.
Indoor movie theaters were allowed to open in step one of phase three. The permitted capacity, 50 percent with a maximum of 250 people, has not changed.
To make matters even more complicated, in Provincetown, where most Outer Cape venues are located, indoor performances are still prohibited by a joint emergency order of the board of health and select board that has been in effect since the beginning of June.
David Abramson, the select board chair, and Steve Katsurinis, the board of health chair, said in a joint public statement, “Provincetown Schools are opening for in-person learning next week for the first time since March, and this significant development is the only change concerning the use of indoor space in town at this time.”
Rick Murray, general manager at the Crown & Anchor, said that the step two changes mean his outdoor poolside space will return to a capacity of 85 patrons. Regarding the town’s decision to prohibit indoor performances for the time being, he said he “supports it 100 percent.”
David Burbank, entertainment manager at Pilgrim House, doesn’t believe that the new guidelines expand the capacity of his inn’s outdoor space. He worries about how he will keep performers employed as the weather gets too cold for outdoor performances.
David Drake, artistic director of the Provincetown Theater, said that the step-two changes will have no effect on its 2020 season: “We’re doing virtual programming, but we’re not programming anything live.” He is in discussions on adaptable hybrid approaches for next year.
“We had some plans to do outdoor stuff this summer, and we decided to not do it, because we didn’t know if Covid was going to spike again,” Drake said. “We couldn’t afford to invest.”
Kevin Rice, artistic director of the Payomet Performing Arts Center in Truro, said that his venue will be unaffected by the new indoor guidelines, as the Payomet tent is not up, but he’s hoping to raise it in April.
“It’s clear that we are able to increase our capacity, and I’m sure we will,” Rice said, referring to Payomet’s outdoor Ballfield Drive-in. “But, honestly, the governor could increase it to 2,500, and that doesn’t mean we will sell more tickets. People are so impacted in their behavior. I think it is going to be years until we are back to normal.”
Christopher Ostrom, artistic director of the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater, said, “In the short term, we do not anticipate opening our doors: it’s too risky.”
Janet Lesniak, executive director of Wellfleet Preservation Hall, expressed confusion about Gov. Baker’s guidelines.
“In one place it says one thing, in another, it says something else,” she said. “Given the size of our back yard, we might be able to go up to 100, if it allows for appropriate social distancing and sight lines. That’s a math problem I haven’t figured out yet. However, I don’t anticipate anything inside at this point.”
None of the four Outer Cape libraries plans on doing indoor concerts or events in the near future. Jennifer Wertkin of the Wellfleet Public Library said that there are no plans to open its meeting room.
“I don’t see any live indoor programming at the library until there is a vaccine that has been distributed to the community,” said Debra DeJonker-Berry of the Eastham Public Library.
Though movie theaters were allowed to reopen at the beginning of phase three, many have chosen to remain shuttered until now.
Heidi Bolinger of the Provincetown Film Society said that the Waters Edge Cinema is hoping to reopen “on a limited basis,” available for “private use, special screenings, and programs.”
John Vincent, owner of the Wellfleet Cinemas, said his indoor movie theater will open in mid-November.
“The new guidelines enable us to open with concessions and a little more people in the auditorium,” he said. Vincent’s Wellfleet Drive-in is now closed for the season.
Howard Karren contributed reporting for this story.